AN: Sorry for the delay. I've been setting up house and hitting all manner of writer's block. But I'm satisfied with this chapter and hope it meets with your approval! REVIEW!

Disclaimer: I don't even own a nice pair of jeans, come on now...

He watched her smile widen slightly, her lips part as her sightless eyes still searched for the origin of his voice.

"Erik," she repeated. Her hand held his a moment longer in a touch of appreciation before setting it free. "I didn't hear anyone open the door."

"It was left open," he lied. Erik was good at thinking on his feet—a lifetime of necessity had taught him well. He watched her, who could not see him, with a kind of hungry greed.

She was smiling. She did not know who he was, other than a name and an action. She could not see him. And so he observed her, everything he could. Her cheek and her complexion and her curls. Even those veiled eyes.

"What are you doing in my exam room, Erik?" She asked. "Not that I'm complaining—I'm grateful for your help just then."

Her tone was gentle; she wasn't wary of him. Apparently he'd given her no reason to be. His eavesdropping had gone undetected.

"I'm Dr. Kahn's assistant," he lied. "I observe and assist some of his patients, when he's too busy to do it himself."

Christine nodded her head. "So I suppose this means he will not be able to see me himself?"

Erik stood away from the chair, taking a few steps away from her. Beyond her was the sage green medical counter, and on top of it was what curiously looked like her file.

Sneaky, conniving, old… Erik muttered it all in his mind; he'd be sure to keep a list for Nadir to read later. But all the same he picked it up.

"You're here to have your bandage changed and your ankle's progress checked." Erik spoke as a doctor—interested wholly on the specimen. He took from the medical cabinet a bin, solutions, cotton swabs and gloves, new bandages and butterfly clips.

"I can clean and assess just as N- Dr. Kahn would." Erik knelt by her, setting down his equipment. "Is that all right, Christine?"

He saw her smile, but also noticed a remarkable blush. But it was only remarkable for him—he had never caused a blush, not even one born from innocent modesty like hers was. But the reason baffled him. Why would anyone be so nervous with him?

"I…," Christine faltered for a moment, "it's nasty. I'm told the surgery was tricky, because of the bone fragments."

"I've seen a great deal in my time…as Dr. Kahn's assistant." He slipped the latex gloves over his hands. His hands reached for her bandaged ankle, touching only the sole of her small black shoe. He paused, watching her for her reaction. If she was too afraid, he would leave her and call for Nadir to fix his mess.

"All right," she murmured, placing her hands gently on her lap. Slowly, taking great care to keep her ankle still, he slipped off the shoe.

He watched her a moment, as he set the shoe down, and raised a hand. He waved it only once, satisfying himself. She did not see. His own eyes turned downward, paying attention to his patient.

Her ankle was wrapped in a white bandage, so gently and carefully as to keep her circulation from being cut. Tugging the clips free, his hand guided the cloth free from her small foot. He was patient and did not hurry this for fear of causing her distress. Christine, for her part, only felt the cool air touch her uncovered skin and the slight embarrassment of what this man, Erik, would see.

Finally Erik pulled away the gauze and looked closely at the stitches covering her ankle. Her skin was a pale cream all along her exposed leg, right until the ankle itself. It was healing, the stitches free of any discharge, but her ankle was still violet and tender.

His gloved hand trailed only lightly with some gauze, patting it with antiseptic. "You shouldn't try to stand on it quite yet, Christine." He allowed a gloved finger to trail down to where a drop of the liquid pooled.

"Is it ugly?" Christine asked in a quiet voice. "Will I be able to stand?"

Both questions seemed absurdly paired together to Erik. Functionality and beauty were not, in his mind, companions. One could be ugly and continue to exist for decades, after all. But he didn't say anything as he stripped away the fresh bandage from its plastic encasing and set about rolling the soft material over her cleaned ankle.

"No, it won't even scar. The surgeon was very careful." Remembering her second question, he added. "And as long as you mind what I said about pushing yourself too hard, I'm sure you'll be walking out of that chair eventually."

"I don't know about that," she admitted. Erik raised his eyes, surprised by her sad response. Her milk-pale eyes…they'd dimmed just a little. Or was it the lighting in the room playing tricks?

His hand pressed only lightly as he clipped the fresh bandage. His eyes had not wandered away from hers. Again, as if he could not believe it, his hand moved once, slowly, over her eyes. But she did not respond.

"Something like this…" Erik tried to say something, which was more than he gave most people. But this was the daughter of a good man, one of the few he'd met—he should have something for her! He'd heard her, seen her struggle even for a moment. He understood.

So why couldn't he find the way to offer comfort to her?

"Yes?" Her question made his eyes snap up to hers. He'd nearly forgotten he'd said anything at all. Quickly, he changed the subject.

"You're scheduled to begin physical therapy as soon as your doctor says you can." Erik said, slipping her shoe back on carefully. He set her foot back, but did not immediately stand again. "It'll be soon. The stitches will likely be out within a week."

That dimness, that look she did not realize she could give, seemed to deepen for a moment. Then she smiled brightly, very brightly.

"Thank you, Erik." She held out her hand again to him. "It's nice to meet you."

He didn't rise, not yet, but he took her hand again. "It's nice to meet you," he echoed. And it was. It was nice to be this close to anyone, much less a girl so…pretty.

"Perhaps I'll see you again." She said, releasing his hand. "Is Dr. Kahn very busy at the hospital?"

He thought about it. Other than lectures and his work in surgery, Nadir was fairly free. Then again, he'd left her unattended and in this exam room for a reason, and Erik did not like falling into plans. And then there was the girl.

"If Dr. Kahn permits," he nearly ground out, "I will be the attending for your checkups, Christine."

Her smile widened without a trace of doubt. "Then I will see you in a week."

"---pretentious, assuming, asinine—"

Nadir sighed, pouring himself a cup of tea and one for his guest. Both were fond of the particular brew, and he was sure he'd need a cup after his tirade ended.

"I don't know what you're grousing about." Nadir interrupted, placing Erik's cup across the desk. "You've been with a lovely girl, one who needs your help."

His guest merely stood glowering. Nadir sighed and sat in his chair, but did not drink his tea. "Her ankle is healing. But it's not her only problem."

"And you believe I can do something about that." Erik finished.

"Don't you?" Nadir raised an eyebrow. "Erik, do you remember why Gustave hired you? The potential he saw in you?"

"I was useful," Erik replied. "And only because I didn't need to see anyone in order to treat them."


"A backstage player, Nadir." Erik said wearily, sitting down at last. "If I was kept out of sight, there wasn't a body I couldn't diagnose. Because illness doesn't care what you look like. Does it, Nadir?" A bitter chuckle escaped his lips, and he raised his keen eyes to the surgeon's. Those angry, defeated eyes held everything he would not speak; those eyes burned Nadir with their finality.

"Men are idiots, Nadir, and I'm done with them." He shook his head. "All I want is to leave this behind. Gustave is dead, and I've no more reason to continue here. I'm going to go somewhere—anywhere—and live there until I die. Alone."

"I saw Christine," Nadir spoke up. "After you left."

"You were in the hallway?" Erik nearly growled.

"She asked if she could be scheduled with you from now on." Nadir had the desire to smile, but held it in check. Now was not the time. "It seems you made a good impression on her."

Erik remained silent, but a slight widening of his eyes betrayed him. There hadn't been any false words when they'd spoken….she wanted to talk again…

"You're being cruel, Nadir." Erik replied, but there was little bite to his statement. It was true, and both of them knew it. To have someone even slightly resembling a companion, now, was…painful for Erik.

"I have to be kind to Christine; it's what we owe Gustave." Nadir replied quietly. At that, Erik's eyes raised to meet his.

"And what is owed to me?" He wondered quietly. And they were quiet a moment. Neither could answer; one felt sorry for it, but the other felt only weary anger.

"No one knows what it's like, to be the bad man…" Erik's voice was quiet, so withdrawn that it almost masked the bitterness.


"To be the sad man behind blue eyes." His voice seemed to echo as he carried on, trapping Nadir in the sound. Erik moved forward, his crystal eyes peering. "And no one knows what it's like to be hated, to be fated, to telling only lies!"

He softened for a moment, and thought about how she'd held his hand in hers. He thought about the dimness and light in her blinded eyes, and he felt a tireless ache. Nadir could only watch as he continued.

"But my dreams, they aren't as empty as my conscious seems to be." Who was he trying to reassure? Himself, or the man who'd put him in this situation?

"What are your dreams, Erik?" Nadir pressed. "Not this escape you have planned for yourself—your real dreams." He wanted to know, wanted the man to say it. But the moment passed.

Erik shot up out of his chair and stalked to the window. He pressed his palms to the cool glass pane and looked below.

She was being wheeled towards a black car by the matronly woman. The rain had stopped, and he could see her just barely, but it was enough. Christine…

"No one knows what it's like, to feel these feelings like I do…" He gripped his shirtfront tight in his fist for a moment before slamming his fist on the thick pane." And I blame you!" Everyone—God, Gustave, Nadir—they were all behind the echo of his fist against the glass he could not break through. "And no one bites back as hard on their anger," He pulled away, shaking himself away from the window. "None of my pain, no, it can't show through…"

"But your dreams, they aren't as empty," Nadir assured him, "as your conscious seems to be."

They both looked at each other quietly, and this time it was Erik who looked away first.

"I have hours….only lonely," He muttered. "Always alone, even in the company of others." He sighed and his shoulders dropped. "I'll keep any appointments she makes. I do owe Gustave that much. But don't ask any more of me."

Nadir nodded. It was a start.

So, Nadir's got them together, but Erik's not about to help Christine. To find out why--stay tuned!

REVIEW? Please? I swear, I need a little encouragement right about now :)